Saturday’s Belk Bowl was a frustrating game for the South Carolina offense, and it was summarized by the final play of the first half. QB Jake Bentley, looking to get points on the board, was instead swallowed for a sack by several Virginia players.
On the other side, Virginia had a touchdown drive lasting 6:31 and another of 8:10, eating the South Carolina defense up with small chunks of yardage at a time. A South Carolina defense which missed several key injured players looked especially vulnerable. But the offense, which put up 35 points on Clemson and 28 points against Akron, looked out of sync too. Dropped passes and a few penalties kept the offense out of rhythm. By the fourth quarter there was little left to salvage for the Gamecocks in a 28-0 loss to the Cavaliers, who hadn’t won a bowl since 2005.
Even when it seemed momentum might swing to South Carolina after a Virginia fumble, Bentley threw an interception to Juan Thornhill, who made his sixth interception of the season early in the fourth quarter. It was Bentley’s 13th pick of the season.
South Carolina’s struggles started early with a failed a fourth down as Bentley rolled out and threw a high pass to RB Rico Dowdle, who couldn’t haul it in.
South Carolina momentarily held the line on defense, until facing a fourth-and-2 play. Virginia scored with 3:30 left in the first quarter, as QB Bryce Perkins connected with Olamide Zaccheaus open in the back of end zone for the touchdown. That was the first of three TD connections between Perkins and Zaccheaus.
South Carolina secondary, starting three freshmen, was exposed early, and that was just part of the woes for a team missing 10 players who were out. What’s more, Rashad Fenton and Steven Montac were benched at halftime. Zaccheaus had 75 receiving yards and a TD in the first half alone. He added another touchdown midway through the third quarter on a 10-yard crossing pattern, then tacked on a third score in the fourth quarter on his 12th catch of the game.
The first glimpse of the difficult day came when South Carolina dealt with a tough sequence as Virginia DB Bryce Hall broke up a third-down pass, then Parker White missed a 45-yard field goal attempt.
A look at the time of possession told a clear story as Virginia held a 20:20 to 9:40 edge, highlighted by a drive of 8:10 as the Cavaliers went up 14-0, capped by a 9-yard run by Jordan Ellis with 42 seconds left in the first half. That time of possession edge continued in the second half for Virginia.
South Carolina’s defense had no answers for the Virginia offense, as the Cavs were hardly slowed much on offense in the first half. They averaged more than six yards per pass, and more than four yards per rush.
The Gamecocks offense didn’t show any improvement early in the third quarter as the first two drives took a combined 3:41 for a combined total of 3 yards. To summarize, they had too many overthrows, drops, questionable route running and a poor running game.
South Carolina went for it on fourth and goal at the 11 while down 21-0 with 2:02 to play in the third quarter. After a timeout, in a play that symbolized the whole game, Bentley airmailed WR Bryan Edwards on a throw. Players and fans showed open palms as is to say: “What happened?”